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Reader Addresses Question of Tax Burden

October 30, 2014
Emmetsburg News

To the Editor:

Even more important than getting some facts right is getting the entire story before you draw conclusions. While Mike Scott's recent letter enumerates a number of things, each has a larger story. I think it's safe to say that everyone wants to have taxes and fees for service as low as reasonably possible.

Let's start with his first two items regarding Emmetsburg's tax burden and our property assessments. I looked at my home's current real estate tax bill. In the lower left-hand corner it outlines that 37.98% of the taxes on my home were levied by the City of Emmetsburg. That means the other 62% of the real estate taxes I am paying this year are going to other taxing bodies like the school, county and county road debt service levy, hospital, Iowa Lakes, etc.

I get the impression that some people believe their real estate taxes are high because of the burden levied by the city. As outlined above, not only are the majority of these taxes going to other places, the city mil levy (the rate taxed per $1,000 of valuation) is one of the lowest of any city in the area. In fact, the mil rate has been pretty steadily reduced from an average of around $17 per $1,000 15 years ago to a levy this coming year of less than $13.

That doesn't mean that budgets have gone down every year. The reduction is also partly a function of taxable valuations more than doubling over that time period. But relative to other cities in our area, our city tax levy is very much on the low end of the scale.

Regarding property assessments, I got the impression from Mike's letter that increasing property assessments were somehow a challenge caused by the city. One first needs to understand that the city has no input or control over property valuations. That is all a function that is coordinated through the assessor's office. Second, one should understand that the County Assessor doesn't always have control of where valuations get set. While they have some latitude, they have to follow a pretty rigid set of procedures.

At its simplest level, even if property valuations doubled or tripled in one year, if all of the taxing authorities held their budgets steady, their mil levy would accordingly be adjusted lower and property taxes would be unchanged from one budget year to the next. But what often happens today is that due to a combination of many things like unfunded mandates being handed down from the federal or state level to the local bodies, or road and bridge repair expenditures not being adequately covered by road use taxes, or escalating mental health costs, etc., the local taxing authorities have pressure to increase their budgets and thus their mil levies tend to change disproportionately relative to changes in taxable values. I won't even begin to attempt to describe the impact of residential and ag land balancing formulas, residential property rollbacks, etc.

You should also know that in the time period cited, the State of Iowa handed down an equalization order which required our property assessments to be increased 29% across the board. So when Mike points out that in the last few years our property assessments have increased more rapidly than other area communities, I don't doubt that is true. But if you looked at the period prior to the State order going into effect, I expect you would find that our valuations were lagging relative to those same communities; thus the equalization order from the State.

The period cited also included a $20 million addition from Wild Rose Casino to the tax roles as well as the addition of 28+ new homes in the city; all positive growth for our community.


(signed) Kirk Haack

EMU Board member

Former City Council member



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